Bromances, homoeroticism and cheap laughs

Posted by Dan March 12th, 2009 at 11:10am In SNL The Gays

This post is less than timely. But I feel like there are some things that need to be said in regards to Brody Jenner, SNL and the way they are shaping the public’s perception of the gays.

It seems like the mainstream tolerance of gay men is evolving in healthy, if annoying, ways. In the 70s, 80s and 90s gay characters came and went on comedic television shows. Sometimes they lisped and nancied about like debutantes. Other times they were tortured closet cases. (For the record, I think that Leon’s depiction on Roseanne is really one of the best early gay characters — he could be fey at times but mostly was just a regular guy with a day job)

So when Queer Eye came around, it really broke down a lot of doors (as stereotypical as the premise was) in creating an atmosphere where gay men were completely out and unapologetic. And they were usually ha-ha funny while staying pretty true to themselves (even if they hammed it up). And Will & Grace created a pretty devastatingly accurate portrayal of the straight girl/gay guy dysfunctional relationship while also managing to be incredibly funny.

But now there’s this trend — I suppose you could call it a trend — of a straight guys making comedies that mine man-on-man affection for laughs, but mask it with enough frat house charm to make it clear that there’s no real homophobia at play.

On Paul Rudd’s hosting gig on SNL earlier this season and in the new Andy Samberg movie (also with Rudd), they tried to reap a lot of laughs by putting men in intimate situations (SNL: nude men painting each other, messy kisses between male family members; movie: a misinformed gay dude kisses Rudd to an awkward reception, usage of the word “man-date” — a term that annoys the living crap out of me).

The trick about all this is that there’s no homophobia at play here. I’m sure these guys are all in the right place politically (pro-marriage, etc.) and Paul Rudd played a homo in that awful early 90s Jennifer Aniston movie before it was trendy to play gay. But what irks me is the fact that two men kissing each other is being played for a laugh, with the intended audience response being “oh, I can’t believe they went there!”

And as pleased as I always am to see Paul Rudd in homoerotic situations, I’d rather not have it played for comedic effect. I don’t want to seem humorless about this (there’s plenty of glitter-encrusted, stereotypical gay humor that I love — Planet Unicorn, anyone?), but if we lived in a *perfectly* civilized and tolerant society there wouldn’t be anything particularly awkward about all of these situations.  And pandering to the ole’ man-on-man kiss for a laugh can be belittling, considering the fact that that is exactly what gay men do.

On a tangential note, this phenomenon reminds me of the show Bromance on MTV, which (full disclosure) I’ve never seen a full episode of. Watch this clip to get a summary of what it’s about — but it’s basically a show where six guys compete to be Brody Jenner’s best friend. They compete in challenges, bare their souls and have Brody visit their families to ensure their compatibility (no shit!).

And while there’s more than a little homoeroticism afoot (there’s been a lot of ballyhoo about a group outing in a hot tub), there’s a certain vein of jockishness that is intended to ward off all perceptions of true gayness. Take this homoerotic (and completely staged) clip for example:

What I’m trying to say is this: The fact that straight guys on TV, even douchebags like Brody Jenner, can put themselves in gay situations and not react horribly is Progress.  Capital P.

But calling a show Bromance has an inherent underpinning of wanting to assert your own heterosexuality before it’s called into question. And for the SNL/Apatow crew to constantly get laughs based on men showing affection — it can get wearying, no matter how benign the intentions are.


  • 1. sara  |  March 12th, 2009 at 11:43 am

    See also: Steve Carell kissing Dwayne Johnson in Get Smart. Which was played for aversion purposes rather than laughs, but, well, I was watching it alone. People probably laughed in the theater.

    My roommate brought up this point with regard to I Love You, Man—that she was kind of hesitant about the movie because she thought there would be a lot of those awkward “no really, we’re not gay, no really” jokes, and we’re both kind of tired of that. I suppose I trust Paul Rudd not to go for that easy joke a little more than I trust Judd Apatow, because I think he’s been getting a little lazy.

  • 2. Cass  |  March 12th, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    thank you, dan, for posting about this! it’s really been irking me as well. kind of like how all frat boys think that the go-to halloween costume for big laughs is to dress up like a girl. get it through your head: it’s not as funny as you think it is!

    i was particularly irritated by jimmy kimmel’s “i’m f*ing ben affleck” response to sarah silverman’s “i’m f*ing matt damon” video. people went wild over both videos, but while i thought silverman’s was fun and funny, kimmel’s was annoying and uninspired–exactly what you’re talking about here.

  • 3. jesse  |  March 12th, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Something I like about the trailer for I Love You Man is that while audiences may squeal or giggle when the guy kisses Rudd (as audiences I’ve been with certainly did), it doesn’t look to me like the movie is really going in that eww-that-was-weird!!! direction. If you look at Rudd’s actual reaction, his character doesn’t seem mad or grossed out about it, just sort of puzzled. Actually, I think the underplaying of it versus typical comedy expectations is what makes it funny. Though obviously it was put into the trailer for a big-yuk reaction.

    (Also, possibly appropos of nothing, Andy Samberg’s character, Rudd’s brother, is apparently gay in the movie? Though I see that’s not really clear from the trailer.)

    But I think what a lot of these movies — if not SNL sketches, since they do tend to go for whatever laugh, even if ti’s cheap — are actually about is male friendship. And I think that is rich territory, playing on how guys are “supposed” to act towards each other and how some men express (or don’t) those warmer feelings… that’s something I loved about Superbad, which found humor in how much those two guys really depended on each other without making it about how that’s weird or “looks gay” or something. On TV, Scrubs, actually, does this really well, I think. It’s sort of a running gag that JD and Turk are super-duper close and affectionate, but it doesn’t come off as cheap shots to me.

    To me, the greater issue is whether some of these writers/actors/etc. might eventually show an interest in exploring other types of relationships in an equally funny, affectionate, but not soapy/sappy sort of way — like having a female character who isn’t mainly a love interest or a gay character where that’s not his or her #1 character trait.

  • 4. Dan  |  March 12th, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    As far as Rudd not being mad/grossed out at the kiss goes, that’s the whole crux of the issue for me. Even if they aren’t actively ridiculing gay folks, they must know that some peoples’ discomfort toward same-sex kissing will come into play within the joke and thereby make it funnier.

    The whole device of role-switching is helpful. If a woman kissed Paul Rudd after what she thought was a date, it would be extremely awkward, a little sad and a little funny (in a schadenfreude kind of way). But substitute a man and it amplifies the “funny” times a thousand. Plus, as you said, putting it in the trailer is proof that a lot people are going to see it outside the context of the whole movie — and they’re just going to laugh because they think two dudes kissing is a riot.

    As I tried to express, it’s not intolerance. But it is irksome that a fundamental aspect of one’s life could be (for lack of a better, milder word) exploited for a laugh, especially for a supposedly enlightened crew. I mean, I was never upset at I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry because it’s fucking Adam Sandler.

    My sentiment can be best expressed with a sigh, slight eye roll and a muttering of “Really?!”

    For what it’s worth, I don’t mind the treatment of the affectionate male friendships in Scrubs and Superbad because they have a sweetness about them that is definitely lacking in the SNL sketches (and perhaps ILYM, but I don’t know — only seen the trailer).

    And I thought about mentioning the gay Samberg character, but it was a bit of a distraction. I have some thoughts about it, but I’ll save it.

  • 5. TV Blog Coalition - March&hellip  |  March 16th, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    […] Although not usually one to pick a fight, Dan expressed some annoyance with the portrayal of gay folks on SNL and Bromance. (TiFaux) […]

  • 6. TV Talk From Fellow TV Ad&hellip  |  March 19th, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    […] Although not usually one to pick a fight, Dan expressed some annoyance with the portrayal of gay folks on SNL and Bromance. (TiFaux) […]


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